Indian students, teachers protest after nationalist violence

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2016 7:59 AM
Indian students, teachers protest after nationalist violence

NEW DELHI (AP) — Students, journalists and teachers protested inside a university campus in the Indian capital Tuesday, demanding the release of an arrested student leader and denouncing violence by Hindu nationalists.

The uproar has once again sparked allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are displaying intolerance and cracking down on political dissent in the name of patriotism.

Police cordons blocked right-wing Hindus from entering the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, where thousands of students have been protesting for days.

Police also arrested Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani before dawn. He and JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar are accused of sedition for participating in events where slogans against India allegedly were shouted along with criticism against the 2013 secret hanging of a Kashmiri separatist convicted of attacking Parliament.

Some participants at Tuesday's protest held placards with slogans such as "When Dictatorship is a fact, Revolution becomes a right." They shouted "JNU, JNU" while pumping fists into the air.

The students objected to Hindu nationalists saying they were anti-India.

"We have always stood for the nation," 22-year-old English literature student Heba Ahmad said. "We were standing against this government, not the nation."

Few JNU students were attending classes, according to PhD science student Pamchui, who goes by one name.

"I am feeling safer now, as there is security outside the campus," she said by telephone from inside the campus.

Outside the campus gates, protesting Hindu hardliners pushed against police barricades in an unsuccessful effort to get onto the university grounds. One man at the Hindu rally angrily questioned how students receiving a higher education at a large university could be criticizing the country.

"Shame on you," Samarjit Banerjee shouted toward the students behind the gates. "Shame, shame."

On Monday, the protests erupted into pandemonium when mobs of lawyers and BJP supporters attacked students and journalists outside the courthouse where Kumar was appearing.

The BJP supporters called the journalists and students anti-nationals, and demanded they leave India and go to archrival Pakistan. Some journalists and students were beaten and had their cell phones snatched out of their hands and broken. Police said they were investigating allegations from both sides, and that no one reported any serious injuries.

Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani told reporters that "the nation can never tolerate an insult to Mother India." The home minister, Rajnath Singh, tweeted that anyone shouting anti-India slogans "will not be tolerated or spared."

Singh also accused Pakistani Hafiz Saeed of supporting the anti-India slogans, which the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group dismissed in a YouTube video.

"The Indian minister is misleading his own people and the world" in trying to blame Pakistan for its problems, says Saeed, who is wanted in India and the United States for his alleged role in the 2009 attacks in Mumbai.

An editorial in The Indian Express said the home minister's "invoking Hafiz Saeed to corner students is divisive and dangerous."

Protests against the 2013 hanging of separatist Afzal Guru occur regularly in India's portion of Kashmir, where many among the region's Muslim majority along with several rights activists have questioned whether he was given a fair trial.

Academics at foreign universities extended support for the JNU students.

"As teachers, students, and scholars across the world, we are watching with extreme concern the situation unfolding at JNU and refuse to remain silent as our colleagues (students, staff, and faculty) resist the illegal detention and autocratic suspension of students," said a statement posted on a blog run by academics and signed by 455 scholars, many of them JNU alumni of Indian descent.

Journalists also marched through central New Delhi, after several reported they were attacked while trying to cover Monday's protests. Journalist unions accused police of standing by during the attacks.

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Associated Press writer Chonchui Ngashangva contributed to this report.

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